Boosted By Stronger Special Teams, Columbus Blue Jackets Are Clicking In February

By Will Chase on February 25, 2022 at 1:45 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets' J-F Berube and teammates celebrate their win against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Nationwide Arena.
Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets suddenly look like a brand new team.

In many facets.

You can point to many things for this club and how they're playing of late. The offense is among the best in the league right now, scoring its most goals ever over a 10 game stretch recently with 46 goals between Jan. 27 – Feb. 22. Then they added six more goals on Thursday against the Florida Panthers in the Blue Jackets' 6-3 win.

Among the positives for the Jackets, who are 7-1-0 in February and nine points out of the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, is the special teams.

In case you haven't noticed, the penalty kill and the power play have taken a turn for the better.

The penalty kill is up to 81.4% (T-11th, New York Islanders), while in the month of February they're seventh in the league (90.0%). From opening night through January, they were 18th in the league (80.0%), jumping 7.0% in that span since then through Feb. 25.

The PK is a top 10 unit in the near year, allowing two chances in their last 20 kills for the month of February. 

Most notably, their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs showed how effective they've been, shutting the best power play in the league down on three tries. Of Jean-Francois Berube's 42 saves, five of those critical stops came when short-handed. Then on Thursday, they stopped four more Panthers chances.

The unit was so good in front of him versus Florida, he didn't even notice any. 

Jake Voracek said it himself about his teams' penalty kill unit.

"I was a little worried when they scored that second goal, I took that penalty...the penalty kill won us a game today," Voracek said. "Let's be honest. The guys did a great job, that's why we won tonight."

The power play is among the best in the league for the month as well.

Since making the case for why it's okay to take an optimistic approach for a struggling power play in January, it's finally started to turn the corner.

The power play is second in the league for February (33.3%) at 6-for-18. Only the Rangers are better (45.5%) and they've played three fewer games.

When looking at the struggles on the power play last month, we pointed to the fact that the No. 1 unit hadn't played together much, with only eight games together heading into play on Jan. 11. The unit has continued to make strides over the past month.

Now in 23 games together this season, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Boone Jenner, Patrik Laine, Jake Voracek, and Zach Werenski have 12 goals and an xGF% of 80.31%.

Especially lately, the power play units are firing more shots at the netminder with 17 over the last four games: Seven on Chicago Blackhawks netminder Arvid Soderblom, converting once, and seven on Buffalo Sabres' goalie Craig Anderson in which they did not score.

Jack Campbell was 50% on two shots, with Adam Boqvist making one count, scoring on the coast-to-coast play that gave Berube an assist. They did not score on the power play against Florida. Boqvist has two PPG on the season and Gus Nyquist has one. The rest belong to the first unit.

Overall, the Blue Jackets have 22 power play goals as a team (29th), less than double the amount the Colorado Avalanche has. Columbus' conversion rate is 24th (17.5%). However, the Blue Jackets are last in the league in penalties drawn with 154. They're also among the least penalized with 168, the fourth-fewest in the league.

Across the board, one thing with this team is abundantly clear and that is they're better than most thought. Even with health taking a bit of a hit recently.

With their top three goaltenders sidelined, the sterling play of Berube over the past week has more than helped keep the team afloat. That extends to the PK and vice versa for the goaltending. After all, the goalie is a team's best penalty killer.

When things are going your way, it's an infectious feeling for the players and the fans. Case in point, Gabriel Carlsson scored a goal in place of Zach Werenski on Thursday against the Panthers.

The Jackets hope to continue the good vibes Friday night against the Carolina Hurricanes at 7:00 pm ET.